Prior to leaving for London we sold our second car to cash up for the trip. On return, we had two children, two drivers and one car. As I usually walk to work, this is normally fine, but on occassion one has offsite meetings. For this Zipcar and other car sharing programs offer an alternative. Having read the literature on this, and being skeptical, I still signed up to test it.
Zipcar has several locations on campus at the University of Minnesota where they keep cars. For a fixed fee, I get the opportunity to rent cars from Zipcar with a minimum of paperwork and contracts. I can reserve the car online (assuming it is available, which may turn into a problem if demand is high) and then can rent the car for $8 per hour plus tax. This sounds expensive, and requires planning, but in exchange I avoid all the fixed costs of auto ownership.
I am issued a Zipcard, which I swipe over the keyhole on the car I reserved, and electromagically, the car door unlocks. The key is in the car. I am responsible for fueling, parking etc., but presumably Zipcar takes care of maintenance and insurance.
Using the car yesterday went quite smoothly once I figured out the operation of the Zipcard in unlocking the door (it sounds obvious, but isn’t quite, and didn’t work immediately, though did a second time), and getting out of the garage (which requires the use of the parking garage contract card, which is in the car, but is again not obvious if you have not done so before.
Otherwise, the car was where it was supposed to be, ran fine, and I have had no problems with the experience.
The only problem I foresee is if demand outstrips supply, renting on-demand may become difficult. Zipcar could add vehicles to the fleet, but there may be some lag on this. However, like many network industries, the more members, the more valuable, as it will then be available in more places, and my likelihood of getting a car when and where I want will be easier.